Japanese Learning Strategies for People with ADHD

Last Updated on 21.11.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

Many times, when we think of learning a foreign language, memorizing long lists of vocabulary and staring at endless pages of grammar come to mind. Of course, this isn’t always true, but needing to concentrate and spend hours focusing is a necessary part of studying. This can seem daunting to even the most enthusiastic language learner, but even more so if one has ADHD. ADHD, also known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, causes individuals to feel restless, make impulsive decisions, or have trouble focusing on tasks5. As a result, many with ADHD have found it hard to learn a new language, such as Japanese.

However, ADHD doesn’t have to be a barrier! Japanese can be easily accessible with a strong plan, new techniques, and a little determination. Read on to find out some helpful plans and tips to make learning this wonderful language with ADHD work for you. 

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Traditional Japanese Learning Strategies 

In classroom settings, Japanese is usually taught with a focus on reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Students often spend most of the time listening to their teacher explain the lesson, and then practice what they’ve learned through in-class activities or homework; this can consist of writing Japanese sentences, listening to Japanese speech and interpreting what is said, going through sample dialogues with classmates, translating short paragraphs, and other such tasks.

Some Japanese courses like the ones at Coto Academy focus on conversations and put less emphasis on the traditional learning approach. While many students strive to remember grammar rules, given vocabulary, and kanji by memorization and rote repetition, this might not be ideal for students with ADHD — or anyone having a hard time memorizing. If this is you, consult with our team, and Coto will try to find the best course options.

Those learning independently may use textbooks on their own, working through the lessons at their own pace while memorizing the rules and vocab. Reading skills are typically practiced by going through short stories, manga, or books; writing practice can consist of copying kanji or composing short essays.

Many also choose to listen to Japanese podcasts or anime in order to strengthen their listening skills and talking with native speakers (either in-person or through language-learning apps) often helps with speaking. 

However, those with ADHD may find these learning methods to be ineffective or even detrimental to studying Japanese. Why? 

How Does ADHD Affect Language Learning?

In general, individuals with ADHD can struggle with a variety of language learning tasks, since ADHD effects can vary from person to person5. If someone struggles to pay attention, they may have issues spelling or reading words correctly4. They may also have trouble with reading comprehension and forming accurate mental images4. Similarly, since listening comprehension tasks require focusing for a longer period of time, selecting specific information, and processing this information, understanding verbal material may be very difficult. Writing can also be a challenge; those who struggle with inattention can “have difficulty in planning their written expressions, maintaining coherence at the sentence level, paragraph and throughout the text, writing in detail, and proofreading their work”4

If someone struggles with hyperactivity and impulsivity, there are different issues that may arise. Speaking the new language and following the corresponding social rules are two areas that might be especially difficult; in a conversation, learners might find themselves accidentally speaking out of turn, talking for too long, or being impatient 4.

These actions would make it hard for those with ADHD to practice with others and achieve good speaking skills. Additionally, one’s writing may become excessively long and unclear, include irrelevant information, be “incoherent on the sentence, paragraph, [and] the whole text level, and [be] inconsistent in spelling, vocabulary and punctuation use”. Lastly, it may be hard to complete complex tasks that require the learner to sit still for extended periods of time4.

Given all of these hurdles, learning Japanese with ADHD may seem like an impossible task. However, as with learning anything, one simply needs to figure out what technique works best for you! Below are some different strategies and tips for studying with ADHD that could be the key to unlocking your Japanese potential.

learn japanese with adhd

Japanese Learning Strategy 1 – Create a Routine with Outlined Steps 

One of the most impactful things individuals with ADHD who want to learn Japanese can do is to create a set studying routine with detailed, ordered steps. Having a routine can help you make studying a habit as well as increase your productivity. You should clearly detail what you want to accomplish each time you study and what steps you will do during every routine; this can help make studying less stressful (as you know what to expect) and make huge goals more achievable by working on small steps.

An additional benefit to making a routine is that you can make it fit your needs. If you struggle with staying focused and get side-tracked easily, a written outline of what you are doing can help you find where you are in the lesson and get back on track.

If you struggle with impulsivity, try making a section of the routine where you have to make a choice. For example, say the last step of your routine is to study either vocab, kanji, or expressions. Which do you choose? They’re all good choices, so you can choose what you want! If you struggle with hyperactivity, you can create set breaks in the routine where you can move around, or even incorporate movement into the learning itself (do jumping jacks while repeating vocabulary, do a lap around the room every time you finish copying a kanji, etc.)! 

Japanese Learning Strategy 2 – Take Advantage of Assistive Technology 

If you find yourself struggling to learn with just your textbook, pencils, and paper, perhaps using some new tech tools could be helpful! Using a different method to take in information often helps with removing mental blocks and keeping the learning process engaging.

Anne Betteridge, an ADHD coach with the ADHD Centre, lists several online services that may be useful; these include Read And Write Gold (reads online text to you), AudioNotetaker (allows you to take notes while recording audio), Dragon by Nuance (creates speech-to-text notes), Trello (planning and organization tool), and Mindview and Inspiration (visually represent ideas) (Betteridge). Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and poking around on the internet or app store might lead to finding an alternative aid that is perfect for your needs. 

Japanese Learning Strategy 3 – Keep Time in Mind 

Time is an important factor in language learning, and it can seem to fly by when one is truly absorbed in studying. With ADHD, many tend to lose track of time while hyperfixating on a task; hyper-fixation, or an “intense state of concentration/focus,” often results in a decreased awareness of external factors1. This can lead to very productive study sessions, but ones that are often too long and unhealthy. As such, it’s essential to be aware of the time spent when learning Japanese.

One tip would be to set a timer when you begin studying – if you do begin to hyper-fixated, the noise from the alarm will break your concentration and allow you to take in your surroundings. (Do you need to stretch? Drink some water? Run errands?) This will also allow you to keep yourself from going too long; keeping study sessions at a manageable length will help you to keep up with other important tasks and avoid burnout. Ultimately, you want to learn in a healthy manner, so make sure you control your studying – and not let your studying control you. 

Strategy 4 – Use Active Reading Techniques 

Sadly, not all textbooks and reading materials are going to be interesting. Because of this, it can be hard to force yourself to read them or focus on the topic at hand. Using reading techniques that help you to interact with the reading – not just see the words on the page – can help keep you on track while understanding the information better.

Some of these techniques include skimming the chapter beforehand, reading headings and being aware of each section’s content, taking notes, reading aloud for yourself, highlighting important information (and color-coding for different categories), making up questions for yourself, reviewing difficult sections, and noting any questions you may have3. The more you use these techniques, the more you can figure out which ones help or modify them to your own studying style. You can even come up with your own methods! 

Strategy 5 – Focus on Spelling and Kanji

As mentioned above, spelling new words correctly can be hard for some with ADHD, especially if you throw kanji into the mix. It could be tempting to ignore the issue and rely on spell-check, but spelling is a key part of Japanese learning. One might need to make special efforts in order to keep new words and characters straight, but that doesn’t mean it has to be painful! You can ask someone to proofread your work or look up spellings in a dictionary using romaji. It might also help to break the word up (kanji and hiragana/katakana), focus on the parts giving you problems, and find a visual way to remember the correct combination. ]

The same applies to learning kanji characters: break the character down into its radical components and find a visual way to remember their placements. Mnemonics might prove useful for longer words, and keeping lists of tough words for study later helps you from running into the same words over and over2. As long as you keep making efforts, your spelling and kanji skills are sure to improve.  

learn japanese with adhd

Strategy 6 – Play Language Games or Explore Language Apps 

Sometimes, just looking at textbooks and notes gets boring and repetitive. Why not spice up your study time with some games or interactive apps? Utilizing resources that can change as you improve, have different levels to unlock, or a include variety of options is a good way to keep up your interest in Japanese and enjoy studying. Games like Kanji Drop and apps are also quicker to give feedback and corrections, so you don’t have to wait as long to see how you did.

Some of the more popular resources include WaniKani, Torii, Kitsun, Bunpro, and Renshuu; you can use one at a time or use multiple to best suit your needs. Either way, you’ll be able to learn and have fun at the same time! 

Check out: Best Apps to Learn Japanese in 2022 – Teacher’s Choice

Strategy 7 – Find a Japanese Interest 

This one seems pretty basic, but it really is helpful! Keeping up the motivation to learn Japanese can be hard, especially if you struggle to stay focused. One way to combat this is to find an element of Japan you’re interested in and use Japanese to learn more about it. Do you like cooking? Try looking up and following a recipe in Japanese! Want to expand your music taste? Explore Japanese Spotify!

Engaging with the topic you like will help you learn vocabulary that you can use in your daily life while also discovering new grammar. You can also reach out to dedicated Japanese chat boards (such as Japanese Reddit) and have native speakers give you some direction if you have questions about a certain topic (like “what are some good sushi techniques?” or “who is a good Japanese R&B singer?”).

The bottom line is that if you are enthusiastic about what you are learning and have some way to use it, you will be much more likely to focus on your language learning and continue it in the long run.  

Additional Tips for Learning Japanese with ADHD

  • It’s ok to take breaks! Try setting a timer for a short amount of time and working on Japanese until the timer goes off. Take a break, then work some more! 
  • Learning a little is better than learning nothing; try to focus on memorizing a few words or kanji at a time, rather than learning a whole list. Pace yourself!
  • Making flashcards is a good idea; try flipping through some of the cards while you wait for something or during a break from a different task. You can also use online resources such as Anki to make virtual cards.
  • Don’t do all your studying all at once; try to space study times throughout the day at times when you feel alert. Setting alarms and giving yourself extra time if needed can be helpful too. 
  • Reach out to your teacher or a knowledgeable source if you’re having trouble. You can’t learn something if you ignore it or put it off until later. 
  • Stay organized: this can include keeping a tidy workspace, using labeled folders, keeping books and notes in a set space, and keeping lists of tasks3.
  • Try incorporating texture into your learning; using fidget tools or other engaging items may help to keep your mind focused on the here and now. 
  • Don’t worry about being perfect; making mistakes is a normal part of learning a new language. Simply do your best and go from there! 

Conclusion

Learning new languages can be a challenging pursuit for anyone, and ADHD may seem like an additional, impossible barrier to overcome. However, don’t let your ADHD stop you from realizing your goals! With these new techniques and a little determination, you are bound to find better ways of learning that place Japanese within your grasp; so, get rid of the idea of long, boring lists and monotonous pages of grammar and get ready to learn! 

How does ADHD affect language learning?

If someone struggles to pay attention, they may have issues spelling or reading words correctly4. They may also have trouble with reading comprehension and forming accurate mental images.

What's a learning strategy for individuals with ADHD who want to study Japanese?

One of the most impactful things individuals with ADHD who want to learn Japanese can do is to create a set studying routine with detailed, ordered steps. Having a routine can help you make studying a habit as well as increase your productivity.

References  

Ashinoff, Brandon K, and Ahmad Abu-Akel. “Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention.” Psychological Research vol. 85,no. 1, 2021, pp. 1-19, doi:10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8. Accessed 7 Nov. 2022. 

Betteridge, Anne. “Study Skills Tips For Adults With ADHD.”ADHD Centre,Mar. 2022, www.adhdcentre.co.uk/study-skills-tips-for-adults-with-adhd/. Accessed 6 Nov. 2022.

Collins, Kim. “Strategies/Techniques for ADHD.” Disability Resources & Educational Services. www.disability.illinois.edu/strategiestechniques-adhd. Accessed 6 Nov. 2022. 

Kałdonek‐Crnjaković, Agnieszka. “The cognitive effects of ADHD on learning an additional language.” Govor [Speech], vol. 35, no. 2, 2018, pp. 215-227, doi.org/10.22210/govor.2018.35.12. Accessed 3 Nov. 2022. 

“Symptoms.” NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2022. 


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